Common Cold

(Viral Rhinitis; Upper Respiratory Tract Infection; URI)


The common cold is an infection that can inflame the nose and throat.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation

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The common cold is caused by a virus. There are over 200 different viruses that can cause a cold.

Risk Factors

The common cold is most common in infants and young children. However, people of all ages get colds. They are also more common during autumn. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Being near someone who has a cold
  • Touching the nose, mouth, or eyes with contaminated hands
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Smoking
  • Heavy physical training
  • Sleeping less than 6 hours
  • Recent airplane travel


Symptoms of the common cold may be:

  • A stuffy or runny nose
  • Coughing
  • A sore throat
  • Sneezing
  • A low fever
  • Headache or body aches
  • Hoarse voice
  • Feeling tired


The diagnosis is most often based on symptoms. Tests are usually only given if another condition is suspected, such as pneumonia.


A cold often lasts 10 days or longer. There is no cure, but treatments can ease symptoms. Options may be:

  • Home care—such as rest, fluids, warm and moist air, and gargling
  • Medicines to reduce aches and fever
  • Cold remedies for short-term relief, such as:
    • Decongestants—to ease a stuffy nose and head
    • Expectorants—to loosen mucus
    • Cold medicines with antihistamines—to ease runny nose and sneezing
    • Antitussives—to ease coughing
    • Throat lozenges—to ease a sore throat and coughing
    • Mentholated vapor rubs—may help the nose feel less stuffy
  • Alternative treatments that may shorten the length of a cold, such as:


The risk of getting a cold may be reduced by:

  • Washing the hands often
  • Staying away from people with colds
  • Not touching the nose, mouth, and eyes
  • Healthy habits, such as getting plenty of sleep and not smoking


American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Public Health Agency of Canada
College of Family Physicians of Canada


Colds and flus. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscoho.... Accessed March 26, 2021.
Mousa HA. Prevention and treatment of influenza, influenza-like illness, and common cold by herbal, complementary, and natural therapies. J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(1):166-174.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed March 26, 2021.
Upper respiratory infection (URI) in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 26, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 3/26/2021

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